A settled sameness pervades products in the consumer tech industry. An ocean of smartphones look indistinguishable from one another and now much the same can be said of true wireless earbuds. British company, Nothing, the brainchild of OnePlus founder Carl Pei, is making its business to disrupt personal tech products on the design front. After their first see-through Nothing ear (1) buds and an unusual Nothing Phone 1, we have the Nothing ear (stick) earbuds, which may well be referred as the ear stick for the purpose of this review.
The ear stick earbuds are being pitted against Apple's AirPods, but just because a company encourages this perception doesn't mean it is warranted. The category-starter AirPods have a different approach to design, sound, noise management and smart features, specially integration across its ecosystem of products. That covers just about everything. The ear stick doesn't share the same aspects.
The design difference
The very box that the ear stick arrives in is unusual. It's slim and long and seems to remind customers of an overgrown lipstick. It might have been nice to keep the box intact, but unfortunately it tears on opening. Inside, there are two cylinders: one turns out to be the ear stick buds in their case and the other is the USB-C cable.
Predictably, the earbuds' case is transparent, like the other products. At the bottom end of the cylinder is a red twisting segment that opens the case and also turns the LED light on. The ear sticks look very interesting in their case, guaranteed to turn heads in curiosity. The case will fit in a pocket easily, but handling them does take awareness. You can easily tumble them out and you always need to check right vs left by looking at the red guiding dot on one bud. Putting them back in the case also takes a bit of attention. These are not buds you can causally toss about and handle one-handed. The case is also bound to get scratched, but brand new, it certainly looks pristine and attractive. The red dial makes for an interesting accent. They are only available in white, so may not go so well with the black Nothing Phone 1, but that may not bother a lot of people.
Open to everything
The shape of the buds themselves is unusual and will cause you to wonder which way they should be worn. This because of the open-fit design that avoids the sealed-in tradition of most earphones so that noise cancellation can be implemented both passively and actively. Noise cancellation is not the forte of the ear stick at all.
With an Android phone, the fast pair feature will kick in and a tap or two will have you connected. With an iPhone, one will pair by getting into the Bluetooth settings. On both platforms users can download the Nothing X app for all the controls. From here you can choose whether to turn on in-ear detection, set actions for tapping and pressing each bud, and most of all, tinker with the equaliser which really helps add some much needed fullness and bass to the sound profile.
Despite the open-fit design, the ear stick buds manage to sound pretty good. Their 12.6mm dynamic drivers do deliver some bass and fullness - but everything depends on the individual fit. With everyone's ears being shaped differently there's no guarantee that they will suit and obviously they cannot be tried out.
When they do fit, they turn out to be quite comfortable and keep you aware of your surroundings and open to interactions with others while still being able to listen to music, take phone calls, or consume podcasts. They are IP54 rated so are splash and sweat resistant, so can be used for workouts, but again, that depends on the fit for each user. The open design does mean the sound will leak a little to someone close to the user, say on a flight.
The codecs supported include SBC and AAC and these buds work on the Bluetooth 5.2 standard. The equaliser in the app really helps adjust the sound to the way one likes. Left to itself, it can be a little too flat or even sharp sounding on higher notes, but tweak for different forms of listening and the experience is pretty good. Phone calls too are entirely clear.
Battery life is good at 7 hours per charge and with additional cycles with the case up to 29 hours. Wireless charging is not supported.
The stick earphones are by no means inexpensive. They cost ₹8,499. If a customer already owns a Nothing product, there's an additional time-limited offer of ₹1,000 off.